1997 - 2004



In 1976, three-year-old Louise Sauvage appeared on Channel 7 as the face of Perth’s famous Telethon, a longstanding annual event the television station has used to raise funds for children with disabilities. At 16, she appeared on television again – this time hailed an Aussie hero after breaking the world 100m record in her first international competition. 

Sauvage’s childhood medical records note how she developed from an early age the fierce resilience that would underpin her illustrious career. Before turning 10 she had 21 surgical operations to treat her myelomeningocele – a severe congenital spinal condition which inhibits the function of the lower half of the body, giving limited control over the legs.  

At 14, doctors inserted steel rods to treat the curve in her spine which was the result of scoliosis. The operation was only partially successful, forcing Sauvage to abandon her place on the Western Australian swimming team’s squad. 

Undaunted, Sauvage took up wheelchair racing and she needed no time to announce her arrival. Her performances that followed her first international victory confirmed a demon had been unleashed. 

She looted precious metal from the world’s major events with the ruthlessness of a Vikings horde plundering treasures from ancient kingdoms. Beside her nine gold and four silver medals from four Paralympic Games, she claimed two gold and a bronze from the 800m demonstration event at three Olympic Games. She also represented Australia at the 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2003 IAAF World Athletic Championships, winning gold in the 800m Wheelchair demonstration event each time. History also notes she seized 11 gold and two silver medals at World Para Athletic Championships. 

Her performances in the marathon were as equally impressive, establishing Sauvage as the undisputed No.1 female road and track racer in the world after winning some of the world’s most prestigious road races including the Boston, Los Angeles, Berlin and Honolulu marathons. 

Sauvage – by now Australia’s most revered Para athlete – was honoured by being selected to carry the Olympic Torch across the city’s iconic harbour bridge during the Sydney Olympics.  A few weeks later she set the cauldron alight, commencing the start of the Paralympic Games, one in which Sauvage won two gold and a silver.  

Her legend was further enhanced at the Sydney Olympics when she won the 800m demonstration race in front of a roaring 110,000-strong home crowd. It set the pace for her to win two gold and a silver at the home Paralympics. 

At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Sauvage finished her international career just as she’d started it – with a Personal Best time. While she amassed a long list of personal accolades throughout (and after) her racing career, this one-time NSWIS Scholarship athlete had a far-reaching impact on all sections of society. 

While her lioness hearted performances were celebrated by all Australians, Sauvage will be long remembered as an athlete who changed the perception of elite athletes with a disability, and as someone who also created an awareness and acceptance of disability in general. 

She is employed by the NSWIS as an Assistant Coach in the NSWIS Wheelchair Track & Road Program. 


NSWIS is the only Institute in Australia that supports both able and para athletes and delivers multiple benchmark event medals and performances through expertise, facilities and our collaborative approach to performance across all events.